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rather of what is " vraisemblable," is that for ever fascinate the imaginafelt even in imaginary conceptions, tion, and dwell in the heart of man. which it is well known are never so The reason is, they contain enough of attractive, or interest so powerfully, reality to tell us it is of humanity as when they most closely resemble that the story is told, and enough of the events and characters of actual the ideal to make us proud of our existence. The real is, and ever connection with it. must be, the only sure foundation of The great and chief charm of biothe ideal. Novels are most delight- graphy is to be found in this, that ful when they approach nearest to it unites, from its very nature and what we behold around us in real object, those two indispensable requilife, while yet containing a sufficient sites to durable popularity in works blending of romance and sentiment, of fiction, and combines them with of heroism and magnanimity, to the value and the solid information of satisfy the higher aspirations of our truthful narrative. It possesses the being. Biography is most charming value of history, without its tediumwhen it depicts with fidelity those the interest of romance, without its characters, and records with truth unsubstantiality. It calls the flowers those events, which approach nearest from the records of time, and casts to that imaginary perfection to which into the shade all the accompanying every generous mind aspires, but to weeds and briars. If a judicious and which none ever has attained, or discriminating selection of characters ever will.
were made-if those persons were It has been said with truth, that selected for the narrative who have the events which are suitable for epic been most illustrious by their virtues, poetry are such as are "probable but their genius, or their magnanimity, yet elevating." We are so constituted or, as a contrast, by their vices, and by our bonds to earth, that our chief who have made the greatest and interest must ever be derived from the most durable impression on human virtues or the vices, the joys or sorrows, affairs, a work might be produced of beings like ourselves; but we are so exceeding any one of history in its utifilled with moreennobling thoughts and lity, any of romance in its popularity. aspirations, by our destiny in Heaven, David Hume strongly advised Rothat we can be satisfied only by what bertson, eighty years ago, instead of points to a higher state of existence, writing the Life of Charles the Fifth, and feel the greatest enjoyment by to write a series of biographies, on the being elevated, either by the concep plan of Plutarch, for modern times ; tions of fancy or the records of reality, and it is, perhaps, to be regretted to a nearer view of its perfection. that the advice was not followed. If novels depict merely imaginary Yet were the abilities of the Scotch existences, they may charm for a Principal, great as they were, not season, like the knights of Ariosto, or such as peculiarly fitted bim for the the heroes of Metastasio; but they task. His mind was too philosophical are too much in the clouds perman- and discursive to give it its chief inently to interest sublunary mortals. terest. He wanted the dramatic turn, If they record merely the adventures the ardent soul, the graphic power, of low, or the vulgarity of middle the magnanimous disposition, which life, they may amuse for a season, was essential to its successful accomlike the characters of Smollett; but plishment. A work in three thousand they will sink ere long, from the pages, or six volumes, recording the want of that indispensable lifeboat lives of fifty of the greatest and most in the sea of time, an elevating ten- illustrious men in Europe, from the dency. It is characters like those of days of Alfred to those of Napoleon, the Iliad, of Shakspeare, of Scott, executed in the right spirit, and by a and Schiller, which combine the well- man of adequate genius, would be the known and oft-observed character- most popular and elevating book that istics of human nature with the oft- ever appeared in Modern Europe. imagined but seldom seen traits of Many such have been attempted, but heroism and magnanimity which never with any success, because they border on the realms of the ideal were not set about by the proper minds. To do justice to such an un- branch of historical composition so dertaking would require a combina- suitable for woman as biography ; tion of opposite qualities rarely to and Miss Strickland has shown us be met with in real life.
that there is none which female geAs biography deals with indi. nius can cultivate with greater sucvidual characters, and is relieved cess. The general bent of the female from the extended and perplexing mind, impressed upon it for the wisest subjects which overwhelm the general purposes by its Creator, is to be inhistorian, it admits, in return, of an fluenced in its opinions, and swayed expansion into many topics which, in its conduct, by individual men, although often in the highest degree rather than general ideas. When amusing, and sometimes not a little Milton said of our first parentsinteresting, would yet be felt to be misplaced in the annals of the great
“ Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed:
For valour he and contemplation formed ; changes of nations or of the world. For beauty she, and sweet attractive grace; As the delineation of character is its He for God only, she for God in him ; ” avowed object, and the events of individual life its principal subject, it He foreshadowed man as the appronot only admits of but requires a priate historian of the general march thonsand incidents and descriptions, of human events-woman, as the which are essential to a right under best delineator of individual characstanding of those characters, and ter, the most fascinating writer of form, as it were, the still life of the biography. The most gifted of her picture in which their features are to sex is a proof of this ; for if a few be pourtrayed. Such descriptions are men have exceeded Madame de Stael not unsuitable to general history. Mr in the broad view she takes of human Macaulay has shown in his History affairs, none have equalled her in the that his observations on that head in delineation of the deepest feelings the Edinburgh Review were founded and most lasting passions of the on a just appreciation of the object human heart. As it is the nature and limits of his art. But they must of woman's disposition to form an be sparingly introduced, or they will idol, and it is for that very reason become tedious and unprofitable: if that she proves so attractive to any one doubts this, let him try to that of man,) so, when she comes read Von Hammer's History of the to composition, we rejoice to see her Ottoman Empire, one-half of which is form idols of her heroes, provided taken up with descriptions of dresses, only that the limits of truth are receptions, and processions. But in observed in their delineation, and that biography we readily give admission ber enthusiasm is evinced in depicting to-nay, we positively require—such the real, not in colouring the imagidetails. If they are not the jewels of vary. history, they are the setting which As graphic and scenic details are so adds to their lastre. They fill up our valuable in biography, and give such conception of past events; they en- life and animation to the picture which able us to clothe the characters in it exhibits, so we willingly accept from which we are interested in the actual a female biographer, whether of her habiliments in which they were ar- own or others' life, details which we rayed; they bring before our eyes the could not tolerate in the other sex. dwellings, the habits, the mode of When the Duchess of Abrantes, writlife, the travelling, the occupations of ing after the fallof Charles X., recounts distant ages, and often give more life in her charming memoirs the enchantand reality to the creatures of our ing Schall de Cachemire, which excited imaginations than could have been her envy on the shoulders of Josephine attained by the most laboured general or tells us that at a certain ball in descriptions, or the most emphatic Paris, in 1797, she wore her blue satin assertions of the author.
dress and pearl ornaments, and at For this reason, as well as on ac- another, ber pink silk and diamonds, count of the known influence of indi- we perhaps smile at the simplicity vidual character, rather than abstract which made her recount such things principle, on the fair sex, there is no of herself; but still we gratefully accept them as characteristic of the have chiefly won theirs by attending costume or manners of the time. But to it. we would never tolerate a male bio. The great popularity and widely grapher of Murat, who should tell us extended sale of Miss Strickland's that at a certain ball at Naples he wore Queens of England, almost equalling, his scarlet trowsers and black furred we believe, that of any living author jacket, and on his coronation looked in this country, and much exceeding irresistible in his blue and silver uni. that of any prior writer, whether of form and splendid sparc jacket ;-nother own or the other sex, in the same even though we know that in Russia period in biography, is a proof both of he often returned to his lines with his the intrinsic excellence of that work, sabre dripping wet with the blood of and the thirst which exists in the the Cossacks whom he had challenged public mind for works of that descripand slain in single combat, and al- tion. We have long been of opinion though the experience of all ages has that the narrative of huinan events confirmed the truth of Philopamen's might be rendered as popular in the observation, that "to soldiers and outset, and far more and durably inwomen, dress is a matter of no small teresting in the end, than any works of consequence."
fiction; and that the only reason why Though details of this description, this has so seldom taken place, was however, are valuable and admissible because historical works were in genein biography, and come with peculiar ral constructed on wrong principles. propriety and grace from a female The great success which has recently band, it must be observed, on the attended historical composition in this other hand, that there is a limit, country, especially in the case of Mr and a very obvious one, to the intro. Macaulay's History and Miss Strickduction of them, and that, if not in land's Lives, is a proof that this view serted with caution, they may essen- of the subject is well founded. And of tially injure the popularity or utility the two, biography, when supported by of a work. In particular, it is seldom learning, and handled by genius such safe to carry to any considerable length as both these learned writers possess, in the text the introduction of quota is much more likely to be generally tions from old histories or chronicles popular than extended history, beof the period, which often are filled with cause it partakes more of the character them to the exclusion of all other sub- of Romance, and possesses in a higher jects. We know that such original degree that unity of interest which is documents have a great charm in the most essential element in all arts the eyes of antiquarians or antiquarian which aim at pleasing or fascinating biographers, the more especially if they mankind. have brought them to light them - Scotland is a country peculiarly selves; but such persons learned in fortunate in the characters it preancient lore constitute but a small sents for biographical genius. This fraction of the human race. The great arises from its physical weakness body of readers, at least nineteen out when compared to the strength of its of twenty, care nothing at all for such formidable neighbour, and the reoriginal authorities, but wish tosee their sources which it has ever found in the import condensed into a flowing easy persevering and indomitable character narrative in the author's own words of its inhabitants. The former in every For this reason it is generally safest age of the wars with England has to give such original documents or made its plains the seat of conflict; quotations in notes or an appendix, while the latter has always secured and to confine quotations in the text their success in the end, though often tocharacteristic expressions, or original after fearful reverses, and always words spoken on very important occa. against tremendons odds. The proof sions. Barante and Sismondi in France, of this is decisive. Scotland, after Tytler in Scotland, and Lingard three centuries of almost incessant in England, have essentially injured contiict, first with the arms, and then, the general popularity of their great more formidable still, with the gold and learned works, by not attending of England, was still unsubdued when to this rule. The two Thierrys her monarchs ascended the English
throne, and the rivalry of two noble She has the spirit of chivalry in her nations was turned into the blissful soul, and the colours of painting in emulation of peace. It is this combina- her eye. She sympathises with all tion of circumstances which has caused the daring spirit, the bold adventure, her history to be so prolific of incident, the chivalrous devotion, of the cavaand has rendered, as strangers so liers of former days; and she depicts often have remarked, every step in with not less animation and force her surface historical. Her physical the stately scenes of departed times— weakness filled it with incident-her the dignified processions, the splendid moral strength with heroic incident. ceremonials, the imposing pageants. Go where you will, you meet with She has vast powers of application, some traces of the great or the beau- and her research is unbounded; but tiful, the gifted or the fascinating, of these qualities, so necessary as the former days. The ancient walls and foundation of a historian's fame, are castellated rocks of Edinburgh teem iu her united with the powers of paintwith historical recollections of the ing and the soul of poetry, and dignihighest interest, which the kindred fied by the elevated objects to which spirit of modern chivalry has done they are directed. The incidents of so much to illustrate. * In the short individual life are of peculiar importspace of twenty miles between ance in Scottish annals, because, Falkirk and Stirling-are four battle with the exception of two periodsfields, † on each of which the fate of the war of independence under WalBritain was deterinined, or armies lace and Bruce, and the national as numerous as those which met at struggle for emancipation from Popisls Waterloo encountered each other. tyranny at the Reformation-there Lochleven exhibits the mournful prison bave seldom been what we now of beauty ; Niddry Castle, of her call popular movements in Scotland. evanescent joys; the field of Lang. Everything, or next to everything, side, of her final overthrow. Cartlan depended on individual character; the Crags still show the cave of Wallace; great game of the world was played by Turnberry Castle the scene of Bruce's kings and queens, nobles and knights. first victory; Culloden, the last battle. On this great theatre the queens field of generous fidelity. Every step played, as they do everywhere, a most in Scotland is historical : the shades important part. The instructor of man of the dead arise on every side : the in childhood, the object of his adoravery rocks breathe
tion in youth, of lasting influence in “Yet, Albyn, yet the praise be thine,
manhood, woman has, in modern Thy scenes and story to combine!
Europe where her destiny was first Thou bid'st him wbo by Roslin strays,
fully developed, exercised an imList to the tale of other days;
portant sway, and more so than is Midst Cartlan Crags thou show'st the cave, generally supposed on national affairs. The refuge of the champion brave;
But nowhere has this influence been Giving each rock its storied tale, Pouring a lay for every dale,
more strongly felt than in Scotland, Knitting, as with a moral band,
where queens have appeared, whose Thy native legends with thy land,
beauty and misfortunes have become To give each scene the interest high,
immortal in story, and been for ever Which Genins lends to Beauty's eye."
engraven on the human heart by Miss Strickland's talents as a the hand of genius, and where tlie writer, and turn of mind as an in- chivalrous and daring disposition of dividual, in a peculiar manner fit the country, the perfervidum Scotorum her for painting a historical gallery ingenium, at once penetrated some of the most illustrious or dignified with the most devout adoration of female characters in that land of their charms, and inspired others chivalry and of song. Her disposic with the most vehement jealousy of tion is at once heroic and pictorial. their ascendency.
· Mr Aytoun's noble Lyrical Ballads, and Mr Grant's admirable History of the Castle of Edinburgh.
+ Falkirk, Torwood, Bannockburn, Stirling Bridge.
In her delineation of individual and still more honourable circumcharacter, Miss Strickland evidently stance. It is the inevitable effect of takes the greatest pains to be impar- a long course of injustice, whether in tial; and the multitude of new docu- the rulers of men, or the judges of ments and facts wbich she has brought those rulers, the annalists of their on both sides of the question in regard lives, to produce in the end a reaction to her heroines, is a sufficient proof in the general mind. This is more that this most laudable principle is a particularly the case in persons like ruling one in her mind. But she Miss Strickland, actuated by genewould be something more or some rous and elevated feelings, and who thing less than mortal, if no trace of feel conscious of power to redress predilection was to be found in her much of the injustice which the longpages. It is rather, however, in regard continued ascendency of a particular to families than individuals that this party, whether in religion or politics, leaning is apparent. She is evidently has inflicted on the characters of Hisinimical to the Tudor and friendly to tory. Nowhere has this injustice the Stuart race. In this she only been more strongly experienced than shares the feelings of the chivalrous in Great Britain during the last two and the enthusiastic of every age and centuries. The popular party in country; for the leading qualities of politics, and the reformed in religion, the one were as calculated, on a re- having in both these countries, after trospect, to inspire aversion as those a sanguinary struggle, been successof the other were to awaken sympa- ful, and a family seated on the throne thy. The first was selfish, overbear- which embodied, and in a manner ing, cruel, but often exceedingly able: personified, both these triumphs, the latter generous, unsuspecting, nearly the whole historians who heroic, but sometimes sadly impru- treated of the period for a century dent. Success at the time crowned and a half were entirely one-sided. the worldly wisdom of the one, and When Hume wrote his immortal hisdisaster, long-continued and crushing, tory, he complained, with justice, that at length punished the unhappy want for seventy years power, reward, and of foresight of the other. But the emolument had been confined to one results of the time are not always in- party in the state, and that the dicative of the opinion of futurity: sources of History had in consequence and already the verdict of mankind been irremediably corrupted. His has been secured in regard to the rhetorical powers and impartial spirit rival Queens who brought their for- did much to remedy the evil, but he tunes into collision, by two pleaders of had not industry and research suffisurpassing power in swaying the hu- cient to do the whole. Much was man heart. Scotland may be proud left to the just feelings, and generous that one of these was found in the because disinterested effort, of the most gifted of her sons, whose genius high-minded who succeeded him in has, in one of his most perfect histo- the path of historical inquiry. Mr rical novels, immortalised the prison of Tytler's great and authentic History Lochleven and the field of Langside; of Scotland, and Lingard's able and and Germany may well exult in the valuable, though one-sided, History reflection that the other appeared in of England, have gone far to give that matchless genius who three cen- the opposite side of the picture turies after her death imbibed, on the which Malcolm Laing and Burnet had banks of the Saale, the very soul and painted in so vehement a party spirit, spirit of the age of Mary in England and Macaulay has since continued and has for ever engraven her heroic with such remarkable historical power. death, and the imperishable scenes of But much remained yet to be done. Fotheringay, on the hearts of men.* Antiquarian industry, chivalrous zeal,
Miss Strickland's partiality for the have of late brought many of the conStuart and aversion to the Tudor cealed or suppressed treasures of His. race, may be explained by another tory to light, and it is those which
* Schiller, in his noble drama of Maria Stuart.